For over twenty-five years, researchers at the HeartMath Institute have studied stress and emotions’ impact on interactions between the heart and brain. To learn more about their findings, we spoke with Sheva Carr, the architect and director of HeartMath’s HeartMastery Program. Sheva helps others access heart intelligence and peace of mind in order to receive the benefits of the heart’s impact on relationships, health, performance, creativity, and the building of a global culture of peace.
Sheva is the founding CEO of Heart Ambassadors, a capacity building organization for world servers and an official training company for the Federation of International Civil Servants (FICSA). She is a Doctor of Oriental Medicine, Board Certified Polarity Therapist and Registered Polarity Educator, and expert HeartMath trainer and coach. She’s authored Being the Source of Love and Where the Sky Meets the Earth, and her writing appears in various journals including Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, and UN Special. Sheva trains and mentors medical staff at distinguished medical centers across the US, including Mayo Clinic, Harvard, Stanford, Dartmouth, Cedars Sinai, Kaiser Permanente and founded the first HeartMath hospital patient education program with Cleveland Clinic’s Heart-Brain Institute at North Hawaii Community Hospital.
To learn more, listen to our interview, or read below to see highlights from our talk.
While still a teenager, Sheva worked overseas as an aid worker helping street children orphaned by Nicaragua’s civil war. Returning to the United States, she lived with subsequent post traumatic stress disorder for eight years.
In medical school, Sheva met the man who would later become her husband. As fate would have it, he invited her to spend the summer at HeartMath where she took a job transcribing their scientists’ research. She explains, “At HeartMath I discovered that all of the symptoms I was experiencing were actually related to stress.” Motivated by the discoveries she was making, Sheva applied the tools she learned at HeartMath to her own life and reports that in two weeks of practicing these techniques, her symptoms were resolved.
For 24 years, along with her colleagues, Sheva has been leading HeartMath healthcare initiatives around the country, collaborating with medical institutions to help integrate skills for emotional self-regulation that provide capacity for the health and wellness and self-regulation of all of the physiological systems.
Heart Intelligence: What is it and why does is matter?
30 years ago, Dr. J. Andrew Armour introduced the term “heart brain.” He discovered a brain in the heart containing its own intrinsic nervous system, proteins, neurotransmitters, and support cells. As he investigated further, Dr. Armour determined that this brain had a different quality of intelligence than the brain in the cerebrum.
To illustrate this unique form of intelligence, Sheva refers to a phenomena described in Joseph Chilton Pearce’s book, The Biology of Transcendence: A Blueprint of the Human Spirit. If we took your brain cells and those of your cat, mother, and the president and put them all together in a petri dish, they would send out dendrites in an attempt to connect. Ultimately, their efforts would fail and those dendrites would implode and die. In contrast, if heart cells from a variety of individuals are brought together this same way, they begin to beat together as one heart in what is called syncytium.
From this, Sheva concludes that metaphorically speaking, we could say there’s one universal heartbeat. When we learn to eavesdrop on the wisdom of the heart brain, she explains, it brings us to a bigger sense of self in the context of a larger whole. In other words, the heart brain moves us from considering “me” toward contemplation of the “we.”
Pointing excitedly to younger generations, Sheva notes that their engagement with issues related to the environment and social justice is evidence of heart intelligence and adds that when we access this resource, we become more effective world servers and more fulfilled human beings.
The Impact of Heart Intelligence on the Body’s Systems
In 1995, HeartMath researchers proved the heart’s unique power and influence over the rest of the body’s systems. Scientists discovered that when we are upset, the heart rhythm becomes chaotic and incoherent. These findings were published in The American Journal of Cardiology.
Sheva explains that when we experience strong emotions, it’s as though we are looking through a shaky camera lens. In contrast, when we feel gratitude and peace, a unique order and rhythm is established in the heart which helps to focus the lens of our perception of life so that we see through a clear filter.
Physiologically we are sending a signal to the vagus nerve which alters which part of our brain is perceiving and responding to our circumstances. When we experience stress and that rhythm grows chaotic, we enter survival mode. We begin to view life through the part of brain that is intent on basic survival. From that uni-dimensional vantage point, the brain looks at each situation as one which leads to eating, being eaten, or procreation.
Heart intelligence provides access to more regions of the brain and lifts us out of the black and white of survival mode and, as Sheva describes it, into the technicolor of multidimensionality. Heart brain access gives us more contact with our cerebral brain and helps it eavesdrop on intuition and instinct. Essentially, the heart synthesizes and amplifies all forms of intelligence.
6 Ways Journaling Helps Anchor Heart Intelligence
Sheva believes that journaling is an essential component in working to help the brain tune into heart intuition and intelligence. Based on HeartMath principals, she shares six ways to grow your heart intelligence with help from your journal.
- Tune in. When a difficult issue arises, note your body’s physical response. Sheva is aware that when her body tenses she is looking through the peephole of survival mode and acting from a place with limited information. Observe thought patterns as well as the behaviors of the people around you. In response, write your stream of consciousness down. Journaling about these thoughts and feelings establishes objective space between you and the triggering situation so that you become aware of inner incoherence.
- Establish a flow of gratitude. Begin by focusing attention on your heart region. Put your hand there and imagine the breath is flowing in and out of the chest area. If it’s helpful, count to five as you breathe in, and count to five as you breathe out. This practice will help take the nervous system out of survival mode. As you continue heart-focused breathing, activate a heart-feeling. Breathe gratitude for what you can be thankful for and compassion for those things you can’t. Write down the stream of consciousness that comes forward. Writing about gratitude creates the smooth heart rhythm that opens up our higher intelligence. Gratitude and compassion open up the perceptual centers of the brain and heart.
- Ground the guidance. From this more objective place you’ve established, you are prepared to use intuitive intelligence to respond to the situation in play. Write down your heart’s guidance to anchor it and return to later.
- Write a transformational love letter. We won’t always be able to inspire others to make the changes we’d hope to see. Writing a transformational love letter to that individual’s higher self is a safe and often satisfying way to convey the impact they are having on your life. This act can help release stress and tension.
- Heart-based planning. Mind mapping is a non-linear way of journaling that can be used to prepare for fun events or creative projects. For example, imagine you are planning a party. Draw a circle. Perhaps music appears in the center of your circle. Gifts and activities are added to the map. Next, focus on the heart. Breathe the feelings you want yourself and guests to experience at the party. Make a second planning map with a heart in the middle and ask your heart for guidance. What elements do you want to bring to the party? Write these ideas down.
- Heart start to the day. Sheva starts each day with a practice she describes as “energy accounting” in which she looks at the assets and deficits from the day before. Writing down which experiences provide energy and which ones drain it, can help you align your day with enriching ideas and actions.
Your Action Plan
- Learn more about Sheva’s extraordinary work. Visit her online at www.HeartAmbassadors.com or www.HeartMastery.com
- Read Sheva’s books Being the Source of Love and Where the Sky Meet the Earth.
- Learn more about the innovative research being done and applied at HeartMath.
- Listen to my conversation with Sheva.
- Practice Sheva’s six journaling techniques to help harness your heart intelligence.
If you found this conversation helpful, you might also enjoy our interview with Dr. Dan Seigel in which we discuss journaling’s positive effects on the brain.